‘Call Me by Your Name’ is an Honest, Painful Look at First Love

CallMeByYourName2017Michael Stuhlbarg has appeared in an Oscar-nominated film five of the past six years and in 2017 appeared in three (likely) Best Picture nominees. Hope he’s paying his agent enough…

“Call Me by Your Name” tells the story of the romantic relationship that develops between a 17-year-old (Timothée Chalamet) and his father’s American assistant (Armie Hammer) in 1983 Northern Italy. Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel and Victoire Du Bois also star as Italian director Luca Guadagnino directs.

“Call Me by Your Name” has been raved about ever since it premiered at Sundance nearly a year ago and for a long while looked like it was going to clean up at the Oscars this coming year. Now things don’t seem so sure after earning just three Golden Globe nominations, however hopefully everyone involved in this project does get the credit and appreciation they deserve because this is a carefully constructed, delicate and heart-wrenchingly effective look at first love.

Timothée Chalamet has been in Hollywood for a few years now (one of his first roles was as Matthew McConaughey’s son in 2014’s “Interstellar”) however 2017 he has burst onto the scene. A scene-stealing bad boy in “Lady Bird,” the 21-year-old has been touted as one of the few who has a chance of stealing Best Actor away from Gary Oldman come February.

A lot like his role in “Lady Bird” Chalamet spends much of his time here face-down scribbling in a book with a cigarette in his mouth, doing what he sees fit to pass the time. However as the film goes on he begins to open up more and more, cumulating in a gut-punch conversation with his father (an equally emotionally effective Michael Stuhlberg). For most of the film Chalamet is required to do more physical acting than verbal, only giving subtle glances or shrugs to the possible advances of Armie Hammer (as charismatic as ever here). It isn’t until the end is he given a real “Oscar reel scene” but he knocks it out of the park.

Set in 1983 Italy, the cobble streets and warm sun fill the wide frame while peach trees and lush green swimming holes are sprinkled throughout. Shot on 35-mm film, cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom captures the feel of the world and even though I was not alive in the 1980s nor have I ever been to Italy in the summer, I feel as if I was a part of that slice of history.

One of the things about James Ivory’s script I appreciated most was he and director Guadagnino force the actors to convey early romantic interest using visuals and physical hints; there is little dialogue or acknowledgement of feelings among characters for the longest time, and it felt honest.

The film is certainly a slow-burn and those audience members who like snappy Sorkin dialogue or big dramatic scenes may not be willing to go along for the ride. I’ve always said that as long as a film has a good payoff I do not mind a slow, winding pace; films like “Foxcatcher” stick the landing while things like “Blade Runner 2049” do not, and that’s what separates the good movies from the average ones.

The ending to “Call Me by Your Name” is an absolute stunner, brutal and honest, one that would put the brilliance of “La La Land’s” to shame. Some points throughout surely could have been trimmed out or down but in the end, the ends justify the means.

“Call Me by Your Name” is not a film for everyone, yet it is a film that everyone can relate to. Love can hurt and first heartbreak is something that is not soon forgotten. But the film’s message that you must relish in the pain of love and not try to fight away any aspect of a relationship-whether good or bad-is what you walk away from and it is an imprinted and all-too-relatable part of the human journey.

Critics Rating: 8/10

Sony Pictures Classics

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